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Is Eating Late at Night As Bad As It's Thought to Be?

As an old saying goes "Breakfast like a king; lunch like a prince; dinner like a pauper". But is it as bad to eat at night as people say? Find out more about late night eats and how they affect your body and overall health.
Have you ever heard that you shouldn't eat after 6 p.m., that you should avoid carbs in the afternoon, or that you should even skip dinner entirely if you want to lose weight and maintain good health? You're probably wondering if these claims are really true. We've got the answers.
a boy eating late at night burgers near a fridge

How does eating late at night affect our weight?

Theoretically, a calorie is always a calorie, no matter how early or late you eat it. However, many dieticians still advise against eating late at night.

The reason is simple: It's just too easy to overeat late at night. Most midnight snacks are simply junk foods eaten out of boredom or habit or as a method of stress relief (yes, sugar does actually reduce stress levels, but it's definitely not the healthiest option).

A small healthy snack after dinner is perfectly okay if you don't go overboard.
a girl eating late at night donuts near a fridge

Do late-night eats have any benefits?

It turns out that if done right, eating late at night has some health benefits.

When you sleep, your body is busy repairing itself. And since you're largely made of protein, your body will really thank you for a small protein-rich snack (such as yogurt or cottage cheese) before bed. Studies suggest that protein eaten late at night stimulates muscle growth and repair.

Another surprising benefit of late-night eating is being less hungry in the morning. If you tend to wake up with a growling stomach, you can try consuming more calories (and more carbs!) in the evening. Contrary to what some people think, carbs eaten at night don't automatically turn into body fat. After all, your body uses carbs as fuel even when you're sleeping.

7 proven tips on how to stop eating late at night

If you feel that eating late disrupts your sleep, causes indigestion, or leads to overeating, we can help you break this habit.

1. Get rid of junk food in your home

Let's be honest, no one munches on carrots in the middle of the night. Most late-night snacks tend to be sweet, fatty, salty, or all of the above.

But what if you just didn't keep any candy or junk food in your home? Even if you woke up hungry, you'd probably just drink a glass of water or eat an apple and go back to sleep.

Consider getting rid of junk foods from your fridge and pantry or at least hiding them in places where you can't easily get to them.
three friends eating late at night at the cafe

2. Have an early dinner

If you feel that eating late at night has a negative impact on your sleep or your digestion, move your evening meal a couple hours earlier, as long as your work schedule allows it.

How long should you wait between eating and sleeping? It's a good idea to eat around 3 hours before going to bed. This is enough time for the meal to leave your stomach so you won't be bothered by digestive symptoms when you're trying to sleep.

Make sure your dinner contains enough protein and healthy fat. These macronutrients make you feel full and prevent late-night hunger.

3. Track your calorie intake and keep a food journal

How many calories do you actually eat throughout the day? If you struggle to answer this question and want to have more control over your diet, you may need to track your calorie intake for at least a few weeks.

The best way to do this is to keep a food journal in an app like MyFitnessPal. You simply log the foods that you've eaten, and the app calculates the approximate number of calories. Keeping a food journal can sound like a boring chore at first, but once you make it a habit, your body will thank you.

The best thing about tracking calories is that you can actually plan sweet snacks into your day and enjoy them without overeating or feeling guilty!

4. Allow yourself your favorite food in the morning

If there's a specific food that you tend to binge on at night, try eating it in the morning instead, when you're genuinely hungry and need some calories to get through the day.

But what if your favorite food is chocolate cake? Eating it for breakfast every day is hardly healthy, but you can make a weekly ritual that involves going to your favorite café every Sunday and enjoying a slice of cake with a cup of delicious coffee. As long as 80% of your diet consists of reasonably healthy foods, 20% can be anything you want.

5. Get good sleep

Good sleeping habits are one of the foundations of your overall well- being. Getting 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep every night is beneficial for pretty much every aspect of your health: inflammation levels in the body, stress levels, heart health, and eating habits.

For adequate rest, sleep hygiene habits are key. If you struggle with falling asleep at regular times, avoiding screens before bedtime, or implementing other healthy sleep habits, try using Habio. Our habit-tracker app comes with a course that teaches you scientifically proven habit-building strategies, including for improving sleep hygiene.
a girl holding plate of serials in one hand and clock in another and eating late at night

6. Don't use your phone while eating

Mindful eating is more than a fancy buzzword. It's a key eating habit that will help you manage your weight while actually enjoying your food.

When eating, try to eliminate distractions like TV or social media. Instead, savor every bite of your food, and enjoy the flavor of each ingredient.

There are several science-based reasons why slower, more mindful eating is better. If you eat your dinner too quickly, you can easily overeat without noticing it. This, in turn, can make your blood sugar levels fluctuate dramatically, leading to extreme hunger at night.

7. Add more protein and fiber to your diet

Protein-rich foods provide the building blocks for your body's organs and tissues, so they're an integral part of a balanced diet. In addition to that, they help you feel less hungry.

Fiber is a non-digestible substance found in fruit, veggies, and other plant-based foods. Even though it doesn't provide nutritional value, it reduces hunger and helps your digestive system stay healthy.

An evening snack that contains both protein and fiber (for example, cottage cheese and a piece of fruit) will help you avoid late-night hunger.

Summary

Is it bad to eat at night? It depends on what you eat. Planned healthy snacks that contain protein and fiber can actually be beneficial, but late-night binges won't do your body any good.

As long as you don't eat too many calories and stick to healthy eating habits, it's generally okay to eat whenever you want. Don't go to bed hungry just because someone told you eating dinner makes you gain weight!

References

  1. https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/diet-truth-myth-eating-night-causes-weight-gain#1
  2. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/11/051128011306.htm
  3. https://www.inc.com/peter-economy/the-secret-benefits-of-late-night-snacking.html
  4. https://www.livestrong.com/article/557830-4-reasons-to-eat-more-calories-and-carbs-at-night/
  5. https://habio.app/blog/13-healthy-eating-habits
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